That’s a complicated sounding term, but it’s meaning is simple: the ability to hear, recognize, and play with the sounds in spoken language. Phonological awareness is really a group of skills that include a child’s ability to:
- Identify words that rhyme
- Count the number of syllables in a word or in familiar names
- Recognize alliteration (words with the same beginning sound)
- Segment (break) a sentence into words
- Recognize and play with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. This is called phonemic awareness.
Strong phonemic awareness is one of the strongest predictors of later reading success. Children who struggle with reading, including kids with dyslexia, often have trouble with phonemic awareness, but with the right kind of instruction they can be successful. Learn some of the warning signs for dyslexia in this article, Clues to Dyslexia in Early Childhood.
For pre-K children, the focus is on rhyming, alliteration, syllables, and beginning sounds. Parents can make a big difference in helping their children become readers by practicing these pre-reading oral skills at home. Try some of the simple rhyming and word sound games described here.
Why phonemic awareness is the key to learning how to read
This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte . Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper .
Try these speech sound activities at home
“I am thinking of an animal that rhymes with big. What’s the animal?” Answer: pig. What else rhymes with big? (dig, fig, wig)
Body part rhymes
Point to a part of your body and ask your child to think of a rhyming word. For example, what rhymes with hair? (bear). What rhymes with eye? (pie) What rhymes with head? (bed). Make it more challenging by asking for two or three rhyming words. Nonsense words count, too!
Read books that play with sounds
Try these books featuring rhyme, alliteration, and more:
- All About Arthur (An Absolutely Absurd Ape)
- Buzz Said the Bee
- Catch a Little Fox
- Each Peach Pear Plum
- A Giraffe and a Half
- The Hungry Thing
- See You Later Alligator
- Sheep in a Jeep
- Yours Till Banana Splits
Clap it out
Practice listening for syllables. Explain to your child that syllables are the big chunks in words as you say them: some words have one syllable (hat), some have two (apple), and some have three or more (banana).
You can actually feel syllables! Have your child put her hand under her chin and say the word slowly so she can feel when her mouth goes down. Be sure to explain that each time her chin goes down, she’s saying another syllable or part of the same word.
Think of everyday words your child knows (for example: apple, baby, toothbrush). Tell your child that you’ll both clap the number of syllables in each word. Show her how to clap one time as you say each syllable: /ap/ (clap) /ple/ (clap). Try it with more words. Kids also love clapping their name!
Alliteration or “tongue ticklers” — where the sound you’re focusing on is repeated over and over again — can be a fun way to provide practice with a sound. Try these:
- For M: Miss Mouse makes marvelous meatballs!
- For S: Silly Sally sings songs about snakes and snails.
- For F: Freddy finds fireflies with a flashlight.
“I Spy” first sounds
Practice beginning sounds with this simple “I spy” game at home, on a walk, or at the grocery store. Choose words with distinctive, easy-to-hear beginning sounds. For example, if you’re in the bathroom you can say, “I spy something red that starts with the “s” ssss sound (soap).”
Which letter sounds do I teach first?
Reading expert Linda Farrell recommends that you begin with teaching the letter names, and then focus on the letter sounds that are closest to their letter names (such as /v/). And here’s a great tip for teaching the trickier letter name–letter sound combinations — use arm motions. In this video, Linda demonstrates motions for /x/ and /y/. (From our video series Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading.)
Sound scavenger hunt
Choose a letter sound, then have your child find things around your house that start with the same sound. “Can you find something in our house that starts with the letter “p” pppppp sound? Picture, pencil, pear”
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR “At Home” series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Rhyme Boards . See all FCRR phonological awareness activities here .
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR “At Home” series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Rhyming A-LOT-OH! . See all FCRR phonological awareness activities here .
More phonological and phonemic awareness resources
- Sounds and Symbols (VIDEO: PBS Launching Young Readers series)
- Playing with Word Sounds: Stretch and Shorten (In English and Spanish)
- Nursery Rhymes: Not Just for Babies! (In English and Spanish)
- Clues to Dyslexia in Early Childhood
- Reading tips for parents of preschoolers in English and 12 other languages
- 11 Children’s Books Featuring Fun with Rhyming and Word Sounds
- 8 Children’s Books Featuring Rhyme and Alliteration (Understood)